Are You a Christian?

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I picked up the artificial flowers and placed them back in their container. A woman brushed past them, not realizing that she had knocked them to the ground. An employee of the store came up and thanked me, then asked, “Are you a Christian?” I was a little surprised as I answered, “Yes I am.” She turned back to her co-worker and said, “See I told you she was a Christian.” She hugged me said, “I thought so – I saw it in what you did, and then I saw it in your face.” She darted back to her task and left me standing there a little dumbfounded and very grateful that, at that moment, in even a small gesture, Jesus was evident in me. I was also very convicted of the many moments that Jesus was not so evident in me.
The Old Testament says, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord” (Ex. 34:29). Moses absorbed a “holy glow” from being in God’s presence. The Israelites could not help but see the effect of being with God in Moses’ face and they listened when he spoke. But Moses’ face waxed and waned between encounters with God. The glow would fade from his face after a time (2 Corin. 3: 7, 13) but he would meet again with the Lord and the radiance of his face was “recharged” (Ex 34:33-35).
Why then, if I continually bear the living Holy Spirit of God in my very being, am I inconsistent in showing Christ in my life. Some days I am “radiant” for the Lord, but other days the presence of Jesus is nowhere to be found on my face or in my behavior. You and I are image-bearers of our Savior. We may not have a physical “glow,” but we have been called to reveal Christ to the world through our demeanor, our actions, our words, and yes, sometimes even our facial expressions. I cringe when I think of the picture of Jesus others have because of me. How do we consistently show Jesus to the world? The same way Moses did – by spending time with Him – in His Word, in prayer, and in worship. The world is looking for Jesus in you and me Beloved. Let’s shine for the Lord, every day.

When to Run and When to Stand: How to Fight Spiritual Battles

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We’re working our way through the book of Colossians in our Ladies Bible study group at BCF. Yesterday we looked at Paul’s warning: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). So we posed the question: what are we watching for? Two points stood out from elsewhere in the Scriptures:

When Jesus confronted his three closest disciples who were asleep in the garden, he admonished them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). So the lure of temptation is one area where we need to be watchful.

Then Peter, who was one of the three, gives us another saying, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality and work of the devil is another.

How are we to handle these two?

The conventional wisdom is to resist temptation and flee from the devil; but what does Scripture say?

About temptation, Paul said, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we face temptation, we take the way of escape. We flee. We run. We get away from the source of temptation, be it a place, a person, a website, or the office breakroom.

And when it comes to dealing with the devil, Peter’s warning continued: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter 5:9). We resist the devil, standing firmly and confidently behind our shield of faith in the God of Christ our Lord.

So the conventional wisdom is completely backward – Scripture tells us to resist the devil and flee from temptation. No wonder we’re falling so easily to the enemy.

Why does this matter?

Because as 1 John 4:4 reminds us: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” If you are in Christ Jesus, then Christ Jesus is in you through His Holy Spirit. The very same Christ who has already overcome the devil. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, the devil has no authority over you. None. And you need to stand firm and remind him of that when he comes roaring at you. Because all he can do is roar.

And because, as Jesus admonished his sleepy disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Your flesh, the part of you that responds to temptation, is weak, even as a Christian. Though we are set free from the power of sin, we are still bound to our fleshly nature that desires sin. Paul said, “I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep doing” (Romans 7:18,19)

Christ has already defeated the devil, but you and I will battle our flesh every day of our earthly lives.

Understanding the enemy and his tactics is vital – not just to surviving – but to thriving and growing and carrying the cross of Christ into a lost and dying world. You need to know your enemy Beloved. But more than that, you need to know your Savior. He has already claimed the victory over the devil. And He will give you strength – to flee when you face temptation and to stand firm when the lion roars.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

The Intercessor

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“Jesus Christ carries on intercession for us in heaven; the Holy Ghost carries on intercession in us on earth.”
Oswald Chambers
I was intrigued by this quote and as I meditated on it the thought came to me – Jesus is interceding on our behalf before God, reminding His Father continually that, as believers, we are covered by His blood. The Holy Spirit is interceding on God’s behalf in us, reminding us continually that, as believers, we are set free from the bondage and power of sin. Jesus declares before His Father that you are made right with God and are no longer under condemnation. The Holy Spirit declares to you that you are made right with God and are no longer bound to obey your sinful nature. Every time I fail Jesus tells the Father, “I died for her.” Every time I fail the Holy Spirit tells me, “This is not who you are – there is a better way to live.” Jesus asks the Father to send you strength for your daily struggles. The Holy Spirit is the conduit of that strength to you. Jesus stands before the Father on our behalf and the Holy Spirit dwells in us on the Father’s behalf. Maybe that’s not news to you, but I sure rocked my finite mind!  I believe this showes the perfect work of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit. And it is a work all on our behalf, to perfect that which began when the Spirit drew us to the Father by the cross of the Son.

From creation to salvation to intercession, the Trinity works in perfect harmony to accomplish the plan of the ages. That plan includes you and me. How astounding, how utterly marvelous!

God, thank You for the mystery of the Trinity – and for brief glimpses of understanding of who You are. Thank you for the work You are completing in me through the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Give me ears to hear the Spirit interceding, calling me into holiness and truth. Amen

 

 

Money-back Guarantee

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“Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22).

I work in the floral department of a grocery store and we have one particular arrangement that is guaranteed to stay fresh for 7 days, or your money back.  In the retail industry a money-back guarantee is common.  In fact, our store offers a money-back guarantee on anything you purchase.  If you’re not happy with it, we will cheerfully refund the full purchase price.  That’s okay for flowers or cheese or a can of beans, but sometimes the stakes are quite a bit higher.  If the auto repair shop guarantees your new brakes or your money back, you may not be alive to collect on it should they fail.

God offers a perfect guarantee.  He makes incredible promises and backs them up – not with a financial incentive, but with Himself.  More than a thousand times in Scripture God says, “I will” and it comes with the assurance of His name and His character.  He promises to never leave us nor forsake us. He promises to lead us, care for us, carry us, watch over us, protect us, provide for us, comfort us, and bless us.  And most importantly, He promises to save us from our sins and give us eternal life.  What is our guarantee for His promises?  “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22).  Jesus Christ is all the guarantee you need.  And if that we’re enough for us He also gives us His Holy Spirit “who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14).  The Holy Spirit marks you as a child and heir of the God of the universe.  Our Heavenly Father doesn’t have to offer a “money-back guarantee” because His promises will never fail.

From a distance…

“Peter followed at a distance…”  Luke 22:54b

I remember reading a quote, though I don’t know who said it, that asks the question –

“If you don’t feel close to God anymore, who moved?”  A quick internet search yields more than 112 million hits, of people who are wondering why they don’t feel as close to God as they once did.  People are leaving churches by the droves because they feel that God is remote, unavailable and uninterested in their lives.   The pop singer, Bette Midler sang a song with these lyrics: “God is watching us, from a distance.”  In this age of “spirituality,” fewer and fewer people can testify to a close and personal relationship with God.  I’d like to tell you that Ms. Midler’s theology is way off and God is as near to you and me as our next breath.

Peter is the prime example of one who walked closely with the Savior, yet allowed himself to drift.  One of Christ’s most passionate disciples, Peter swore allegiance to Jesus-even to the point of death, saying “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). But Jesus knew that Peter’s bold talk would not sustain his resolve.  He told Peter “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (v. 34).   And sure enough, Luke 22:54-62 tells us that Peter did just as the Lord said he would.

How does one who walked so closely with Jesus turn away from Him so easily?  I’d like to offer something I see in this passage:

First, our key verse gives us one important clue – “Peter followed at a distance.”  By the words used in this verse, we see a contradiction in Peter’s actions.  He “followed” – which means in the original Greek, “to accompany, to be a disciple,” so he heads out with the heart of a disciple, to accompany his Lord and Teacher.  But he followed “at a distance” and this Greek word means “far away, at length.” Out of fear for his own life, Peter fell back, and the distance between him and Jesus began to work on his heart.  When he separated himself, his passion for the Lord cooled, and rather than a heart warmed by his love for Jesus, he warms himself by a man-made fire.  His passion for Christ has chilled to the point that he openly denies the One he previously swore to follow to prison and death.

It is the same with you and me – when we begin to allow the cares and offerings of this world to draw us away from our Savior, our hearts begin to cool toward Christ, and rather than draw near to Him, we turn and warm our cold hearts at worldly fires.  Is Sunday morning more about a sports event than gathering with the saints in God’s house?  Are we more concerned about keeping up with our favorite TV programs or with reading and studying God’s Word?  Am I having more “Facebook” conversations than heart conversations with God in prayer?  Is there an unconfessed sin that is driving you away from the One who died for your sins?  Am I reluctant to confess that I know Jesus at all?

Now let me offer this a beautiful contrast. God has made a promise to you and me: “the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Our Heavenly Father has promised, no matter how far we roam, He goes with us and will never leave us.  He commanded the Israelites to build a place for Him, that He might dwell in the midst of His people.  He came in frail human flesh, Jesus Christ, and walked among the very ones He would give His life for.  And He has sent His Holy Spirit to all who will believe in Christ for salvation; His indwelling presence to be with us through this earthly life.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, He declares “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, no anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  God has proclaimed that He will be with His children, and there is no power or force or thing that can take us from His love.  God is never distant from His beloved child.  The gap that you feel is not God pulling away from you.  He can never separate Himself from us, if we are in Christ Jesus.  Pop songs are not theology, God is watching us, but not from a distance.  He is watching us, caring for us and loving us from within our own hearts, as He lives in us through His Holy Spirit. He is as near as your next prayer.

Holy Father, when I think I have lost my way, and have wandered far from You, I need only call on Your Name, for you are always with me.  Thank You for never giving up on me.  Amen

Giving Joyful Thanks

“Joyfully giving thanks to the Father…”  Colossians 1:12

We are looking at JOY this week in the Advent season, and the many sources of joy that God has given to us.  In our culture, depression and anxiety seem to be the most significant issue of the day.  We look around our world, even around our own community, and find so much pain, anger, sadness and despair.  Of course there are medical causes for depression, but how much is a reflection of the darkness of this world.

What is one of the best ways to experience joy?  Give thanks!  A grateful heart is a joyful heart, and the more we focus on the blessings of God, the greater our joy grows.  An “attitude of gratitude” lifts our hearts to see how good our gracious our God is.

What can we joyfully give thanks for?

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16.  I am joyfully grateful for the love of God that enabled Him to sacrifice His beloved Son that I can have eternal life.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!” Luke 24:5.  I am joyfully grateful for the empty tomb, and a living Savior who has promised that I will live forever with Him.

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” John 8:12.  I am joyfully grateful for the light of Jesus Christ in this dark world, and for His light that shines in my heart when darkness and fear and discouragement take hold of me.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and I lay down my life the sheep.” John 10:14-15. I am joyfully grateful for my Shepherd who leads this not-so-bright sheep to good pasture and living water and places to rest, who protects me, finds me when I wander, and died that I might live.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him” 2 Peter 1:3. I am joyfully grateful that God has given me His Word and His Spirit to live a godly and fruitful life in Him.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:6. I am joyfully grateful that God will never, ever give up on me, but will continue to mold me and shape me until He sees the reflection of His Son in me.

“Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth” John 17:17.  I am joyfully grateful for the Word of God, which is completely and fully truth.  I am grateful for its power to convict me of my sins, to reveal the truth of the Gospel of Christ to me, and to sanctify and transform me into His child.

I am joyfully grateful for God’s Holy Spirit, for His redemption, grace, mercy, sovereignty, providence, provision, protection, kindness, promise…there is no end to the list of blessings that God pours out on those who love Him – and even those who reject Him.

Take some time today to express your joyful thanks to God who has been so good to you.

Holy Father, there is no end to the blessings You have given to me.  Even if I start today, I could never express in a thousand years my gratitude for all you have done for me.  I’m so glad that I will have all eternity to bow before You in joyful thanks and praise.  Amen.

Peace of Mind

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

We need peace in this world.  We need peace between ourselves and God.  We need peace when we are afraid.  And we need peace when we are upset and our minds are a whirlwind of anxious and angry thoughts.  We need the peace that only comes from the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.  This is the peace we are focusing on in this week of the Advent season.

I am upset today.  My mind is racing with a hundred thoughts of frustration and anxiety, all because of some comments my seminary professor made.  I am having a hard time grabbing hold of the things that I need to focus on today.  I need peace of mind this morning.  I wonder if you do too.

God promised us the gift of peace, and if you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior, that peace is yours.  We’ve seen that He has made peace possible between us and God, and that He is our peace when we are afraid.  But what about now, when the real issue is simply my thoughts and attitude?  How do I find peace when my mind is anything but peaceful?  I have to choose peace.

The peace of Christ is there for me, but it is my choice to receive and apply it, or to leave it on the shelf and continue to stew.  Where will I allow my thoughts to roam – to the wasteland of anxiety or to the peace of Christ?  Two verses of Scripture offer me important keys.  From the Old Testament, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trust in you” (Is. 26:3). And from the writings of Paul, “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).  I can have the peace of God by focusing my mind on Him, trusting Him, remembering His faithfulness and His character; and by submitting my mind to the control of the Holy Spirit.  I cannot just grit my teeth and force myself to be at peace.  Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), and it only comes when I am surrendered to the Spirit.  Ephesians 4:23 tells us to “be made new in the attitude of your minds.”  This will only happen when we fill our minds with the things of God; things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil 4:8).  Isn’t it interesting that when we consider all these characteristics we are to think on, they all add up to one thing. Jesus.

Holy Father, Giver of true Peace, I chose today to turn my thoughts to the Baby in the manger, the flesh-and-blood gift of your perfect peace.  Let my mind be at peace, Jehovah Shalom as I trust in You.  Amen.

The Lord is Our Guide (part 2)

In the first part of this series, we looked at who our guide is, and found much comfort in knowing that the Lord is our Guide. He is the perfect Guide because He knows the way we need to go, He knows the dangers we will face, and He knows the destination.  He stays close to us as we travel and provides all we need for the journey.

In this devotional, we will look at the ways God guides us.  When we understand how He leads we will become better followers. We will be better able to discern which path is the right one, by remembering these simple truths from Scripture.

“Your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in Your truth.” Psalm 26:3

This verse shows us two ways God guides His children.  First, He leads us by His love. His love is perfect (1 John 4:18), it is great (Psalm 86:13), good (Psalm 69:16), unfailing (Psalm 143:8), and endures forever (Psalm 136).  Everything God does in the lives of His children is done according to His love.  God’s love gives us confidence in His leading.  It is a love that you and I can always trust.  1 John 4:18 also tells us that God’s perfect love drives out fear.  What is there to be afraid of when the love of God is leading us? God declared to His people, “I led them with …ties of love.” (Hosea 11:4) When love leads the way, we are compelled to follow.

Psalm 26:3 also tells us God leads us in His truth.  Truth carries the promise of “faithfulness, reliability, and trustworthiness.” Where can we find this truth?  Jesus declared, “Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17)  Psalm 119 is filled with praise for God’s Word, declaring that it is righteous (v. 7), helps us guard against sin (v. 11), is filled with wonderful things (v. 18), is  a delight (v. 24); gives freedom (v.45), hope ,(v. 49), and comfort (v. 50); teaches us knowledge and good judgment (v. 66); is trustworthy (v. 86), eternal, (v.89),and  boundless (v. 98); keeps us from evil (v 101), is more valuable than pure gold (v. 127), is forever right (v. 144), and true (v. 151). Verse 105 proclaims, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  This verse says God’s Word is the way of truth and light.  God’s Word –His truth -is the light we need to protect us, sustain us and lead us.

“May Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10

God leads us by His Holy Spirit.  In the days of the Old Testament, God’s Spirit often fell on the great men and women of Scripture, empowering and directing them for the God-task ahead, and then departing from them afterward.  Since the days of Pentecost, God’s Spirit has come to dwell within believers. He has come to stay and give us continual power and direction.  Isaiah 30:21 offers us a precious promise from God, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”  The Holy Spirit is that voice for the believer.  Listening carefully, we will be empowered, strengthened, and led by His Spirit.

 “Lead me, Lord, in Your righteousness” (Psalm 5:8)

The Lord will always lead us in the right way.  He will always lead us according to His righteousness, which means “according to God’s proper standard.”  He will lead us in ways that agree with His character.  Psalm 139:21 is David’s plea that God will “lead me in the way everlasting.” This “everlasting way” is by definition, “the everlasting way of life, which is from of old and lasting.”  Hebrews 1:12 assures us that “God will remain the same” and Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  He will lead us in the righteous way He has lead his people for generations. Walking in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ, we can be sure we will reach our destination.

God has promised to lead us, but it is up to us to follow Him.  If we want to go with God, we must know His ways and heed the words of Proverbs 4:25, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you” We must continually look to our righteous Guide who leads us in the good way to the perfect destination.

Holy Father, faithful Guide; Lead me in the way everlasting, in the good way of Your love, Your truth, Your Sprit and Your righteousness.  I surrender all my ways to You and trust that Your way is always the right way.  Amen.

 Today’s devotional is dedicated to the memory of Dorothy Brillhart, a wonderful friend, encourager, adopted “grandmother,” and a godly mentor.  You were a walking testimony to the goodness and faithfulness of God.  I love you.

It’s a Powerful Thing!

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7

Wait.  Go back and read that verse again.

Do you see it?

Power.

That word means so much to me, because like you, my life is very demanding and full of struggles and frustrations and difficulties. I sat here just a bit ago and said with a sigh, “God I am tired of…” How would you fill in that prayer?  Tired of the financial struggles.  Tired of working hard every day and being overlooked.  Tired of health problems. Tired of doing battle with family members.  Tired of so many responsibilities. Tired of the struggle against sin. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and feel powerless.  But God wants you and me to know that we are not powerless.  Quite the contrary, as Believers in Jesus Christ, we have “incomparably great power (Ephesians 1:19),” power that comes from God.  Do we really understand what that means?

When the Bible talks about power, as in our key verse, both the Hebrew and the Greek words mean “to be able; to have the power to accomplish an action.”  God’s power accomplishes what He determines to do.

The power of God is on display throughout the Bible, beginning with Creation. Jeremiah 10:12 says “God made the earth by His power.”  He used the same power to bring the Israelites out of Egyptian, (Exodus 32:11) and to defeat their many enemies in the wilderness and in The Promised Land.  It was “the Power of the Most High [that] overshadowed” Mary to bring about the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:36).  Jesus performed miracles and endured great suffering through the power of God.  And Het will return “coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26).  Jesus promised that His Disciples would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” Acts 1:8).  A promise He fulfilled in Acts 2, which led to mighty acts displaying the power of God through His followers.

Paul wrote about God’s eternal power” (Romans 1:20), His “power for the salvation of everyone” (Romans 1:16), “overflowing hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13), and “[God’s ]power made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  He said that God’s “power is at work within us-[doing] immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and “by His power He [will] fulfill [our] every good purpose and act of faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11)“God [strengthens us] with all power according to His glorious might” (Colossians 1:11). And Peter gives us this incredible promise: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

But perhaps the most powerful statement about the power of God is found in Ephesians 1:19-20, where Paul writes about God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.”  Stop.  Go back and read that again. Can you and I comprehend what Paul has said?  The same power that God exerted to raise Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in you and me through the Holy Spirit.  That is power that will enable you to accomplish everything God has called you to.  Do you have a problem that is bigger than death?  No, and neither do I.  Whatever the problem, whatever the challenge, whatever the work you are called to do – in Christ, you have the power you need.

Philippians 4:13 is a favorite verse of many Christians.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”   And you can too.  The power of the Holy Spirit is already in you. Both the word “power” in Ephesians 3:20 and the word “strength” in Philippians 4:13 are from the same Greek root word we looked at earlier – “dynamai” – which is where we derive our English word “dynamite.”  It is powerful power, and it is yours.  But you can’t grit your teeth and muster up “dynamai.” It only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The promise of God’s power and strength should encourage and inspire us to fulfill all that He has called us to do and be.  It is the power to love others, to forgive every wrong, to endure trials and suffering.  It is strength we need to carry our burdens, to persevere through struggles and heartaches, and to reach out with compassion and kindness.  It is the power to fight for justice, to remain firm in the face of opposition and to be His light in this dark world. In His strength we can resist temptations, turn away from sin and walk in righteousness.  God’s power strengthens our faith and enables us to fulfill the purpose He created us for, to go where he sends us, to work for His kingdom, and to be His hands and feet in a world filled with lost and weary people. His power is real and it is mighty. And it is yours if you are Christ’s.

 God of Power and Might, You are Yahweh Tsuri – the Lord my Strength – come fill me with power to face the challenges of today.